Communities of practice

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The concept of Community of Practice (CoP) emerges from a paradigm shift in the study of learning, that sees it as a social practice and situated, as a process and as participation. According to this paradigm, participation is the central condition for learning. Learning is understood as collective, relational, and as a social process.

The CoP framework is align with the practice turn in social sciences as well as with the sociocultural study of literacies.

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger seminal text "Situated learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation" (1991) developed a new theorization of learning, in where active social participation was understood as the primary condition for learning processes, not just a context or something attached to learning processes. Assuming participation in social practice as a condition for learning, opens a wide range of social settings where learning can be studied both in formal and informal settings. Their major achievement is to make the connection of social practice to learning.

Situated learning, itself, is a part of a tradition of educators and theorists that understand individuals as social beings, active learners, and place high value in real life experiences and situations.

According to situated learning paradigm, learning not only takes place in the school classroom and is not only associated with teaching. Learning through participation in social experiences.

Lave and Wenger conceptualize learning as "social participation" and that is why the community becomes the primary unit of analysis. The community is the situation. The context where learning takes place becomes more important than the individual itself in this kind of analysis. People learn through their co-participation in the shared practices of a community.

In later works Wenger will develop a three dimensional criteria for the study of CoPs: mutual engagement, joint enterprise, and shared repertoire.

Although the agency of the individuals tends to be secondary in the CoP framework, there is mutual reshaping of the community and the individual as they interact.

According to Lave and Wenger, learning is understood as participation in a community of practice. Hence, the analysis focuses on the group and the collective more than the individual, the relational social network more than the mind. Individuals learn by being in social relation to others.

As people learn to become full members of the community of practice, they articulate an identity. The formation of an identity reveals the learning process.

Lave and Wenger recognize the existence of novices and experts. However, the "curriculum" is available to newbies through their increasing participation in structured social practices (activities, tasks, habits) of the community.